Pro-life groups threaten protests at Obama visit to Catholic university

 News that a leading US Catholic university has invited President Obama to speak at its commencement day on 17 May has sparked angry protests from some pro-life groups across the country.

Nearly 90,000 people have signed a petition demanding that Notre Dame University in Indiana, withdraw its invitation to the president and rescind its decision to award him an honorary degree.

Bishop John D'Arcy, of the diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, has promised to boycott the ceremony. He said the decision to invite Obama was "shocking".

He said: "While claiming to separate politics from science, he has in fact separated science from ethics and has brought the American government, for the first time in history, into supporting direct destruction of innocent human life. After much prayer, I have decided not to attend the graduation. I wish no disrespect to our president, I pray for him and wish him well. I have always revered the office of the presidency. But a bishop must teach the Catholic faith 'in season and out of season' and he teaches not only by his words ­ but by his actions."

Notre Dame University has invited presidents to attend the Commencement Day function for more than 50 years. Mr Obama will be the ninth US president to be awarded an honorary degree by the University and the sixth to be the Commencement speaker.

The university's president, Father Jenkins, said: "It is of special significance that we will hear now from our first African-American president, a person who has spoken eloquently and movingly about race in this nation. Racial prejudice has been a deep wound in America, and Mr Obama has been a healer."

He said the invitation did not imply the school supported all of Obama's positions. "We see his visit as a basis for further positive engagement," he said.

He told the student newspaper: "The invitation of President Obama to be our commencement speaker should in no way be taken as condoning or endorsing his positions on specific issues regarding the protection of life, such as abortion and embryonic stem cell research. You cannot change the world if you shun the people you want to persuade."

Pro-life groups from across the USA are threatening to line the streets in demonstrations against the president's visit

But other Catholic groups have expressed support for Obama. Billy Lyman, Glenview, Illinois, said the protests made him embarrassed to be a Catholic. He told the Chicago Tribune: "Both my grandmothers are coming. They don't want to see that on their way into the ceremony. Nobody should be subjected to that on such a happy day. I'm really concerned the day is going to be marred."

The White House responded by noting that Notre Dame would be one of the first universities Obama would visit as president and that the
school has a history of vigorous debate. Spokeswoman Jen Psaki said: "The president does not govern with the expectation that everyone sees
eye to eye with him on every position. The spirit of debate and healthy disagreement on important issues is part of what he loves about this country."

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